Shrubs for Shady Spots

Landscaping a shady backyard is easy when you choose from a select group of shrubs that excel in low-light situations. Some will even produce colorful and fragrant flowers. Here's a list of some of our favorite shady characters.

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  • 1 of 17

    Sumac

    Although it's considered a small tree, sumac has a compact, shrublike form that will fit into almost any size landscape. Sumac grows quickly and prefers rich, slightly moist soil and a partially shady location. Wild sumac can become invasive, but most new dwarf hybrids will stay within bounds, growing just 6 feet tall and wide. The plants also produce showy red berries in the fall, adding a much-needed dose of color to the winter garden.
    Botanic Name: Rhus typhina
    Light Conditions: light shade, full sun
    Size: 6 feet tall and wide
    Zones: 4-8

  • Pieris japonica 'Debutante' 2 of 17

    Lily-of-the-Valley Shrub

    This handsome broadleaf evergreen gets its name from the lily-of-the-valleylike trusses of white or pink flowers it produces in spring. It's a slow-growing shrub, so buy the largest specimen you can find. Because lily-of-the-valley shrub prefers partial shade and slightly moist, acid soil, it makes a great companion for azaleas and camellias.
    Botanic Name: Pieris japonica
    Light Conditions: partial shade
    Size: 5 feet tall, 8 feet wide
    Zones: 5-8

  • 3 of 17

    Yew

    One of the most versatile shrubs on the planet, yews come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and they can easily be sheared into hedges or screens. Yews prefer partial sunlight but will also thrive in the shade or full sun. Use spreading varieties along a foundation or path and line up upright forms to create privacy around a patio or spa. The plant's soft, dark green needles look terrific all year long.
    Botanic Name: Taxus sp.
    Light Conditions: partial shade, shade, sun
    Size: varies by variety
    Zones: 4-7

  • 4 of 17

    Serviceberry

    If you're looking for four-season interest, you can't go wrong with serviceberry, occasionally called shadblow. This amazing native tree has a shrublike form and produces masses of small white flowers in the early spring followed by edible blue-black berries in the summer. Come fall, the foliage turns bright red and when winter arrives, the plant's handsome bark adds textual interest to the otherwise dormant landscape. Use serviceberry singly as a specimen tree or cluster several along a lot line or fence.
    Botanic Name: Amelanchier sp.
    Light Conditions: partial shade, sun
    Size: varies by variety
    Zones: 4-8

  • 5 of 17

    Clethra

    Fragrance and color! That's what you'll get when you plant Clethra in your garden. Also called summersweet, this easy-care shrub bursts into bloom in the late summer, sporting spikes of richly scented white or pink flowers. Plus, in the fall, the leaves turn bright yellow. Clethra is a native shrub that tolerates wet acid soil and salt spray. Use it in a foundation planting or in a mixed border. Hummingbirds and butterflies love this shrub.
    Botanic Name: Clethra alnifolia
    Light Conditions: partial shade, sun
    Size: 4-6 feet tall, 4 feet wide
    Zones: 3-9

  • 6 of 17

    Azalea

    Celebrate the return of spring with a colorful collection of azaleas. These spectacular shrubs thrive in partially shady locations with rich, acid soil. Azaleas, which are in the rhododendron family, come in a variety of colors and some newer varieties will even put on an extra flower show in the fall. Once established, azaleas will perform for decades, particularly in the southeastern part of the United States.
    Botanic Name: Rhododendron sp.
    Light Conditions: partial shade, shade
    Size: 3-6 feet tall and wide
    Zones: 5-9

  • 7 of 17

    Rhododendron

    In general, rhododendrons are a bit bigger and bolder than their close cousins the azaleas. These beauties develop softball-size flower heads perched atop leathery, dark evergreen leaves. Rhododendrons prefer slightly moist, acid soil and can grow up to 20 feet tall, although there are also ground-hugging varieties available. Colors include lavender, pink, white, purple, yellow, rose, and bicolor.
    Botanic Name: Rhododendron sp.
    Light Conditions: partial shade, shade
    Size: 2-20 feet
    Zones: 4-8

  • 8 of 17

    Camellia

    The undisputed queen of the winter garden, camellias bloom nonstop from fall to late spring. These amazing plants come in an almost unlimited array of flower colors, and some varieties are also fragrant. Camellias have a dense branching habit with shiny, bright green leaves so the plants look wonderful in the landscape even when not in bloom. Camellias are slow growers, but most varieties will eventually reach 12-20 feet tall. They prefer slightly sandy, acid soil.
    Botanic Name: Camellia sp.
    Light Conditions: partial shade, shade
    Size: 2-20 feet tall, 5-7 feet wide
    Zones: 7-9

  • 9 of 17

    Mophead Hydrangea

    If someone held a popularity contest for shrubs (not likely, but you never know) mophead hydrangeas would be the uncontested winner. With their broad, bright green foliage and their pink or blue softball-size flowers, mophead hydrangeas are a pretty and versatile garden plant. You can even change the bloom color if the urge strikes by simply amending your soil. Use mophead hydrangeas to create a low hedge, perk up a mixed perennial border, or in large tubs to flank an entry. Mophead hydrangeas prefer rich, slightly moist soil and protection from the hot, afternoon sun. Newer varieties bloom on and off all summer.
    Botanic Name: Hydrangea macrophylla
    Light Conditions: partial shade, shade
    Size: 3-8 feet tall and wide
    Zones: 4-7

  • 10 of 17

    Mountain Laurel

    If you take a springtime drive through the Appalachian Mountains you may see wild mountain laurels in flower on hillsides and meadows. This spectacular native evergreen shrub makes a great landscape plant sporting large clusters of cup-shape rose or white flowers with purple markings. It prefers a rich, slightly acid soil and makes a wonderful companion for azaleas and rhododendrons. Mountain laurel is also rabbit- and deer-resistant.
    Botanic Name: Kalmia latifolia
    Light Conditions: partial shade
    Size: 5-15 feet tall and wide
    Zones: 4-9

  • 11 of 17

    Daphne

    Ideal for cool moist climates, Daphne produces quantities of pale purple, intensely fragrant blooms every spring. It's a broadleaf evergreen that loves rich, slightly moist, well-drained soil. Daphne does not like excessively hot summers or deeply cold winters, so is best grown in temperate regions of the Pacific Northwest or South. Use Daphne as a low hedge, specimen plant, or as a foundation plant on a sheltered side of your home.
    Botanic Name: Daphne odorata
    Light Conditions: partial shade, shade
    Size: 3-4 feet tall, 2-4 feet wide
    Zones: 7-9

  • 12 of 17

    Viburnum

    Talk about no fuss! Once planted, viburnums are about as low-maintenance as you can get. These tough-as-nails shrubs thrive in sun or partial shade, aren't fussy about soil type, and have almost no insect or disease problems. They're pretty, too, with clusters of white flowers in the spring followed by blue-black or red berries in the summer, and bright yellow foliage in the fall. Viburnums come in a variety of shapes and sizes that fit almost any landscape situation. Two top picks for partial shade include Arrowwood and Judd.
    Botanic Name: Viburnum sp.
    Light Conditions: partial shade, sun
    Size: 6-8 feet tall and wide
    Zones: 4-8

  • 13 of 17

    Oakleaf Hydrangea

    For year-round color, you can't beat oakleaf hydrangea. This American native thrives in light shade and develops showy panicles of creamy white flowers in early summer. Then, in the fall its huge oak leaf-shape leaves turn spectacular shades of yellow, orange, and burgundy. And during the winter you can enjoy oakleaf hydrangea's papery, cinnamon-color bark. This amazing plant also can tolerate drier soils than other hydrangea species.
    Botanic Name: Hydrangea quercifolia
    Light Conditions: partial shade
    Size: 6-8 feet tall, 4-6 feet wide
    Zones: 5-9

  • 14 of 17

    Must-Try Hydrangeas

    See our favorite varieties of hydrangeas.

  • 15 of 17

    Kerria

    One of the best flowering shrubs for shady spots, Kerria produces masses of bright yellow flowers in April and May. These easy-care plants are also tolerant of both dry and wet soils, heavy shade, and hungry deer. Kerria grows 3-6 feet tall and has a slightly pendulous form that's attractive all year long. Kerria can spread by underground suckers, so check state regulations to find out if it's considered invasive in your region.
    Botanic Name: Kerria japonica
    Light Conditions: partial shade, shade
    Size: 3-6 feet tall, 6-8 feet wide
    Zone: 4-9

  • 16 of 17

    How to Prune Shrubs

    Learn how to care for your shrubs by pruning them each year.

  • Next Slideshow The 13 Best Summer-Blooming Shrubs

    The 13 Best Summer-Blooming Shrubs

    Add beautiful blooms without a lot of maintenance to your garden this summer with easy-growing, summer-blooming shrubs. Here are some of the best.
    Begin Slideshow »
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